How are you planning to spend Christmas this year? Perhaps it will be with friends or family, taking time off work, preparing festive food and exchanging gifts. Last year the average UK family spent a rather scary total of £530-682 on gifts, decorations, food and drink during their celebrations, and many will have spent much more.
In Kibera, Nairobi, where our card makers live, Christmas will be rather different to the 14-day blow-out we know.
While Christmas in the West is increasingly secular, the central meaning of Christmas in Kibera is still religious - a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. On Christmas Day many residents will put on their best clothes – and maybe even have something new to wear from the second-hand clothes stalls around the settlement – and head to one of the churches within the settlement.
As with us, a special meal is a highlight of Christmas Day, but it won’t be a rich turkey dinner which requires the rest of the day to recover from. While the wealthy few might be able to afford an expensive meal, many residents of Kibera can’t afford a meal costing 50/- KES (36 pence). For them, putting food on the table means buying food using credit in the local food kiosks.
A typical menu on Christmas Day will be maize meal porridge (ugali), shredded vegetables, and maybe, for the better off, some chicken or fish. And cooking won’t be in a kitchen using a gas or electric oven – a simple outdoor stove powered by charcoal is the norm.
And while we may enjoy a glass of wine (or two) over the holidays, even simple access to water is not something people in Kibera can take for granted. As Kibera is not officially recognised as a settlement by the Kenyan Government, there is no piped water – residents, especially women and children, have to queue for hours to fill a container. For the privilege they pay two to ten times what is paid by a Nairobi resident outside the slums, and carry the water back to their houses in jerry cans.
Gifts are a highlight of Christmas for children in Europe and America, with many families spending huge amounts on toys and games. In Kibera few will be able to afford gifts, not even for children. Though this year Kipepeo Designs is using its funds to give every family an Advent calendar and a children’s book telling the story of the Nativity.
Like us, catching up with friends and family is a big part of Christmas celebration. Some residents will travel on matatu buses to go back 'up country' to visit their families in the villages they come from. For many of our card makers, this is Nyanza province in south-western Kenya. Spending time with far-away family is a precious opportunity.
So different in many ways, and yet at its heart Christmas in Kibera is familiar – a time for hope, rest and spending time with loved ones. Please spare a thought in your celebrations this year for our card makers, their families and neighbours – and wish them a happy, hopeful new year.